County points out traffic issues, future plans
Claudia Hollod has been working for more than 20 years to get better roadways in Birch Bay. Now, with some of Birch Bay�s biggest problem areas on Whatcom County�s six-year road plan, she may finally see improvements within the next few years.
Hollod, who co-chairs the Birch Bay traffic committee with Doralee Booth, a sub-group of the Birch Bay steering committee, said that although they were encouraged by the steps the county has taken, they are still waiting to see the work happen.
�We�re going to be hounding (the county); this needs to be done,� Booth said.
And the county has been listening. Joe Rutan, the assistant director of public works said work for Birch Bay has been included in the six-year road plan for Whatcom County.
�We realize these issues and we realize we need to do some work,� Rutan said. �We�re hearing it loud and clear from the residents.�
According to Booth and Hollod, work needs to happen soon. The commuter traffic study, which was done by the county in November, 2000 estimated that 1,400 cars per day were using the feeder roads of Shintafer to Anderson or Lincoln to enter or exit Birch Bay Drive from the Birch Point area. By 2020, with the expected growth that the Birch Bay area will have, Hollod said it is estimated that 11,000 cars will be using Birch Bay Drive every day.
�Our roads were not built for this,� Booth said. Rutan couldn�t agree more.
Rutan said since Birch Bay developed as a seasonal recreational community, that is what its roads were made for, but now that it has turned into a year round residential community where constant traffic and speeding are part of daily commuting life, the roadways are no longer adequate.
Since much of the traffic on Birch Bay Drive comes from people trying to leave Birch Point to go to the freeway, Hollod said that a solution for the drive would be a connector road from Birch Point leading to the freeway.
�It�s a win-win situation because it�s more direct and faster for them,� Hollod said.
Rutan said that a connector road is one of projects on the six-year plan, and right now, it is estimated that construction on it would begin in 2006, pending development.
Hollod said the development has already happened and other improvements are also going to be necessary, such as dealing with the speeding problem on Birch Bay Drive which pedestrians, cyclists and skaters constantly use, but often are given no right-of-way.
�I don�t really think they�re mean, evil people, they�re just commuters,� Booth said. �You can stand there at the busy times for an hour� and not be able to cross.
It is important to put the emphasis of the road on pedestrian right-of-way, but crosswalks are not the answer as they only provide people with a false sense of security, and the bike lanes on the drive are half as wide as normal ones, Booth said.
�It�s not a bike lane, it�s a shoulder,� Hollod said, adding that the problem goes beyond the tourist season because even during winter people are biking and skating. Rutan said that the drive was also marked for improvements and the six-year plan projects work on the sidewalk going from Alderson to Harborview Road in 2006.
Booth said the committee has already made several steps toward their goals, including getting a five ton weight limit enforced on the roads, and patrol officers from the sheriff�s department working out of a sub-station in Birch Bay.
Sheriff Elfo, who set up the sub-station, said that after meeting with different groups from Birch Bay, it was clear that traffic and speeding were major problems.
�We�ve tried to make it a little higher priority,� Elfo said, pointing out that the sub-station saves several hours of patrol time since the officers now report to work directly in Birch Bay instead of coming in and then driving up there.
Elfo said the department had also set up a speed watch board and were watching for speeders. Booth and Hollod said they had worked with sheriff Elfo and asked him to be more aggressive in giving out traffic tickets, which they said they realized would probably go mostly to locals. The problem with speeding is not just from tourists or teenagers, Hollod said. �We�ve got mothers and grandparents driving through here.� Elfo said he hoped the measure that the department was taking would start to have an impact on the problem.
Booth and Hollod emphasized that the traffic and speeding aren�t just an issue to them and those who live right on the beach, it�s also a community problem.
�What they don�t understand is it�s county granted, but it�s like it goes right through your yard,� Booth said. �It�s not just us, all of these people behind us have easements,� Hollod said. �It�s not just a few homeowners.�